13 august 2012

Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev chairs a videoconference with participants in the International Youth Forum, Baltic Artek 2012

“My attitude to rules and institutions which concern young people, or the so-called youth policy, is as follows – I think this policy must be absolutely practical. It should not be about slogans. That would discredit the policy from the very outset.”


Dmitry Medvedev: Good afternoon! What’s the weather like where you are? Anything like the old Artek in the Crimea? What’s happening in Baltik Artek?

Moderator: Everything’s perfect, and I am very happy to send you our greetings, Mr Medvedev and Mr Belokonev (Sergei Belokonev, head of the Federal Agency for Youth Affairs), on behalf of the participants in the International Youth Forum, Baltic Artek 2012.

Dmitry Medvedev: I can see you are in high spirits there. I do hope the weather is also good, because the Baltic coast is actually not like the Crimea.

Moderator: The weather is just fine: it’s a beautiful sunny day, and we are indeed in high spirits because of this opportunity of talking to you. We have some interesting questions to put to you, and the kids are looking forward to this videoconference. I’d just like to say a few words about our camp here before we begin our Q&A session.

Dmitry Medvedev: Please go ahead. We’d be glad to hear your report.

Moderator: The International Youth Forum Baltic Artek is organised by the Kaliningrad Region government and supported by the Federal Agency for Youth Affairs. Although the Kaliningrad Region is separate from the rest of Russia and travel links are not always very convenient, we have actually established a proper youth forum here. This year’s event is being attended by 44 Russian regions and by many other countries. We have students here from the Altai and Krasnoyarsk territories, as well as the Tomsk and Omsk regions. They have come from all over our enormous country.

Of course, we have guests here from the Baltic countries – Poles, Swedes, Lithuanians and Estonians, we are always happy to see them, and from far abroad, from China and Israel. This is really a serious, major forum and we are positioning it as a springboard for ideas. This is our slogan. Everyone who comes to take part knows this and they bring wonderful ideas with them. Here they have the opportunity to carry out these ideas and develop them into large-scale serious projects. I could quote many examples, but I will let them speak about this themselves. Mr Medvedev, I would very much like to see you as our guest here. To be honest, we expected you to arrive today. But the doors of the Baltic Artek will be open in 2013 as well and we are hoping to see you then. You’ll be our most honoured guest. Thank you.

Dmitry Medvedev: Thank you very much.  I will certainly come – I was unable  to come today due to some problems which arose. I’ve used this opportunity to talk to you about life and your time at the forum and to learn what you think about everything that is taking place in our life. I’d like to welcome all those who are now at the Baltic Artek, both my compatriots and foreigners – everyone, without exception. I could have delivered a long speech – of course, I have one prepared, but I won’t do this because I don’t see any point in it. I hope you’ll ask me questions, those you’ve prepared and also any that just come to mind. So, if you have questions, please feel free to ask them. Let’s start. Go ahead, guys!

Moderator: Let’s start. Hands up, please everyone!

Question: Good afternoon, Mr Medvedev, my name is Anastasia Orekhova, I’m a third year student at Immanuel Kant Baltic Federal University and a volunteer at Baltic Artek. I’d like to ask about the government’s attitude to e-learning? Do you think it can replace full-time courses and if so, in which subjects?

Dmitry Medevdev: Anastasia, right? There’s a small delay in the sound.

What’s my attitude? I studied and worked in my alma mater for almost 20 years. E-learning will never replace full-time education because a university is not just a learning tool but a place that shapes students’ themselves. I’d like to wish all those who study now to do really well during this period because your future and your success in life will depend on this.

That said, the Internet is a wonderful thing. You know I also love using the web. It is so diverse. On the one hand, it allows you to get information very quickly but on the other, it contains a lot of rubbish in which you can sometimes find whatever you want but also things that we don’t really need for human progress. Nonetheless, the Internet has created an absolutely unique medium for communication. You know, when I was your age, as any student I had various questions. So what would I do? I would get ready to go out and go to a library, or I would look through the book shelves at home (my dad had a Soviet encyclopaedia). Then I would go through the pages, looking for what I was after. But you? You can open any Internet resource, say Wikipedia, and get an answer to your question in about a minute. This is absolutely wonderful! It is a unique system that can quickly provide reference information. It can also be used for longer-term goals, for instance, for e-learning in different subjects via direct broadcasts or interactive communication as we are doing now. Many places are not able to invite renowned professors to speak to their students. But e-education means students can listen to any lectures, no matter whether they are delivered in Moscow, Kaliningrad, Stanford or Harvard and this is also wonderful.

E-education is very useful for this country because of its vast distances. Take Kaliningrad, the westernmost city of this country and Anadyr, its easternmost city (in Chukotka). We have such distances between cities and villages that without the Internet it is simply impossible to transfer any knowledge in a short span of time. This is true both of schools and universities.

Finally, all people are different – some have the opportunity to attend university, others don’t, while some can’t attend for health reasons. In this sense the Internet is a great thing. However, allow me to reiterate that online education will never replace real communication with people. We are communicating right now, which is great, but it would be much better if I were in the same room with you, right?

Remark: Thank you very much for your answer.

Dmitry Medvedev: Thank you.

Moderator: Next question, please.

Dmitry Medvedev: I can’t hear anything at the moment.

Question: Good afternoon, my name is Artyom. I am the head of the Kaliningrad Medved (Bear) scouts. Mr Medvedev, new camping sanitary regulations were adopted in 2010. This instantly created much controversy and confusion, because certain provisions simply cannot be complied with in real life, and some cause genuine surprise. For example, the regulations say that the maximum weight of equipment for a 12-year-old child cannot exceed 4 kg, whereas the list of basic equipment includes items that can easily weigh 10 to 15 kg. What should be done in this case? Tougher penalties for failing to comply with these regulations will be introduced this year. As a result, several large camping events, in particular interregional ones, have simply not taken place because organisers are concerned of the consequences and cannot afford to pay the fines. So my question is: how do you see the future of these camps? Do we really need them? And what do you think about camping in general? Thank you.

Dmitry Medvedev: Thank you. Did I catch your name correctly? It’s Artyom, right? Your organisation has a nice name: the bear invariably inspires respect in our country.

You know, I have always believed that complying with regulations is the right thing to do. Many of our problems stem from the fact that we ignore them. Of course, the sanitary regulations, standards and rules that you are referring to should be based on real life requirements and they do not always need to be simplified. For example, we are not asking to make traffic rules less complicated on the assumption that they are overly complex and it’s much better to drive when there are no traffic lights around. However, this does not mean that these rules can’t have provisions that seem impossible to comply with, or plainly absurd. I am not sure of the exact wording of the regulations you are talking, but if they are impractical in nature then these rules aren’t right.

If these rules block the running of an activity or the ability to set up a camp, it means that these rules are prohibitive. This is not the point of regulating things. The point is in regulating a particular area of ​​recreation and establishing a legal framework, making sure that these regulations can be complied with. I have a proposal ... First, rules must be complied with and, secondly, if these rules are impractical, then we should see what kind of rules they are. So, if you have any information on this account, please send it over to me, and I will ask our services to examine these rules in terms of their practicability.

Remark: Thank you very much.

Dmitry Medvedev: Agreed.

Question: Good afternoon, Mr Medvedev. My name is Vladimir Volobayev, I am a post-graduate student at the Immanuel Kant Baltic Federal University. The Russian expert community has been discussing the idea of ​​making the Kaliningrad Region a bridge for academic, scientific and cultural cooperation between the European Union and Russia for quite a while now. Unilaterally eliminating the need for visas for citizens of the European Union visiting the Kaliningrad Region is one of the recommendations for this cooperation. Do you think this could be possible? When and how will it affect the economy of the region? Thank you.

Dmitry Medvedev: Thank you, Vladimir. I know that this topic concerns residents of the Kaliningrad Region and many other people in Russia. First, I believe one of our main goals in the future is the reciprocal elimination of visas between Russia and the EU. I have been involved in this matter over the last few years, and we continue working on it precisely because we all, the Russian government, students and post-graduate students believe that Russia is absolutely ready for visa-free travel arrangements with the European Union.

Speaking about threats, Russia does not pose a threat to the EU. They have a host of their own problems to deal with. It remains to be seen who will go where and who is going to have more headaches if visa requirements are abolished. Therefore, the mutual cancellation of visas remains the main course of action. You said that the Kaliningrad Region is a bridge. There are many ways to describe the Kaliningrad Region, since it is uniquely positioned as an exclave. On the other hand, it is not quite a bridge. It is an integral part of the Russian Federation with all the attendant consequences, including, of course, the extension of Russian regulations and laws to the Kaliningrad Region. So I assume that... You know, these kinds of unilateral concessions usually don’t work out well. Our friends in Ukraine cancelled visa requirements for the EU, but the EU did not reciprocate. I am not sure whether this is a good thing to do. Moreover, I am now told that our Ukrainian partners are going to restore visa requirements. So, I believe that we should act as a proper state and make sure that our partners and friends in the European Union follow the plan that we have prepared in collaboration with them. I believe we put this plan together in late 2011, and I was personally involved in the process. We should move forward and follow the rules prescribed in the plan. We agreed that Russia would adopt readmission laws concerning the repatriation of emigrants. We are doing this. I think we have a good chance to reach an agreement with our European colleagues on full visa-free travel within a few years.

Remark: Thank you.

Dmitry Medvedev: Please go ahead.

Question: Good afternoon, my name is Karina Gafarova. I represent the League of Debates in the Kaliningrad Region. Mr Medvedev, we have in Russia two major educational and recreational centres  – Orlyonok and Okean - but they are both children’s camps. There are no camps like this for young adults, unfortunately. We would love to have these kinds of year-round camps for young people. Perhaps, we could have the first one on the Baltic Sea, in the Kaliningrad Region, because we have everything it takes to set it up: spectacular nature, the sea, a tight-knit Baltic Artek team and, of course, the energy of young people. Does the Russian government support this idea and these kinds of projects in general? Thank you.

Dmitry Medvedev: Karina, the Russian government strongly supports this idea. Of course, it does. Why wouldn’t it? I used to go to children’s camps, they are great, but children tend to grow up and need permanent venues so that they can get together when they become young adults. I think that if we created five to seven major permanent camps in our country (possibly even more of them in the future, given the size of our country), it would be absolutely the right thing to do. However, I believe that your initiative needs to be supported by proper financing (there’s no way to accomplish this without financing, which can come from both regional and federal budgets) and, of course, the requisite infrastructure in order to make these kinds of camps year-round events. It will be great if these three components can come together. Incidentally, I am confident that the Baltic Artek can become a key driving force behind this movement. Let's give it a try.

Reply: Thank you. We will look forward to this.

Dmitry Medvedev: But don’t wait around for things to happen. Make them happen!

Question: Good afternoon. My name is Alexander Shibayev. I am the coordinator of the You Are An Entrepreneur project in the Kaliningrad Region. Mr Medvedev, is there a possibility to introduce tax holidays for young entrepreneurs providing social and personal services or producing goods? For example, in the first one to two years from the date of registration?

Dmitry Medvedev: Thank you, Alexander. I hope you do not expect me to give you a simple answer the way I did to the previous question and say “of course, Alexander, let’s introduce tax holidays tomorrow?”

Reply: I’d love to hear that!

Dmitry Medvedev: It would be irresponsible of me to say so, because we all know that all entrepreneurs are not alike. Of course, the young should be supported, but... In my younger years, I was also involved in business and I can share an interesting story with you. In the Soviet times, perhaps in 1988-1989, it was decided to exempt all participants in the Great Patriotic War from paying taxes on the assumption that their numbers dwindle and life takes its course. At that time the decision-makers did not understand the principles of the market economy. What do you think happened? Of course, a great number of all kinds of activities under different contracts started being executed by the Great Patriotic War veterans.

If benefits are age-based, then it is likely that business activities will flow to people within that age bracket, including ones that are operated by people who do not qualify as young entrepreneurs by any account. On the other hand, I do not reject the idea of ​​tax holidays outright. I believe that if we decide to go for something like this, it should be based not just on age, but also on revenue levels (or other benchmarks) and lines of business. In other words, perhaps, supporting  tax holidays is not always a good idea, for example, with regard to oil and gas producers, because they can easily survive without us or tax holidays. On the other hand, there are small production services which manufacture products that are in short supply in a particular region. We can discuss this, of course.

Remark: Thank you.

Dmitry Medvedev: Thank you.

Question: Good afternoon, Mr Medvedev and Mr Belokonev. My name is Anna Shtyforuk. I represent the All at Home federal youth project, whose main task is to involve young people in housing and utilities services. We have met with a major issue in the two years since the project started. The housing and utilities sector employs people who do not fall into the category of young people, and this area does not interest young people. Our project proposes running a competition for the Best Housing and Utilities Worker to promote the profession and, of course, we need the support of the Russian government, in particular, that of the Ministry of Regional Development, in organising this. Mr Medvedev, can we count on support? Do you think there are other ways to attract young people into the housing and utilities sector?

Dmitry Medvedev: Thank you. A sure way to attract young people is to pay good salaries and create good conditions for career growth. These are the decisive factors in making any job attractive for young people, and you know this as well as I do. Would you work in the housing sector?

Reply: Yes.

Dmitry Medvedev: Good for you. A good example to follow for those who want to make a career of working in housing and utilities. It is a very difficult job, indeed. It’s in the middle between the authorities who collect utility payments and the consumers.

Our housing and utilities sector is a hard place to work in. Unfortunately, after many years of operation it is not in great condition and is not working well in many areas. Customers express quite reasonable dissatisfaction with the utilities services, saying that bills keep getting bigger but things aren’t any better than they were ten years ago when bills were smaller. Therefore, making things work in this area is truly a challenge.

We have programmes for upgrading our housing and utilities services that are quite sizable and capital-intensive, but implementing them will take time, frankly, years. We need young people in the housing and utilities sector to work on this. If you can show a good example, that would be great. As for your competition, you can tell your colleagues we will look into it. Okay?

Sergei Belokonev: Good, we will work on it.

Reply: Thank you for your answer.

Question: Good afternoon. My name is Artyom Levakov, I am the chairman of the Kaliningrad Regional Youth Council. This is a voluntary organisation. Mr Medvedev, looking at the example of the Baltic Artek Forum and other forums, we see that currently Russian youth activity is growing. New youth organisations, as well as formal and non-formal associations, are emerging, and young people are starting up many projects. Please could you tell me how you see the role of youth activists and their contribution to the development of the country? Do the federal authorities plan to additionally support youth policy following the increase in youth organisations’ activities? Thank you. 

Dmitry Medvedev: First, I go by the idea that since young people are young, they will say and do everything they need to. And without doubt, you are in your best years now, the years when you want to work and to live. As for various programmes, we have always had these and we will be implementing additional ones, including those via the Federal Agency for Youth Affairs. There are a good number of these programmes, but not too great a number, and we have funding for them. But if you ask me whether the funding is extensive, I can answer you now that it isn’t. Therefore, to implement youth projects, we must unite the efforts of the state, voluntary organisations and young people – those who include themselves in this category. We have discussed and considered the law on youth for rather a long time. This is an eternal issue. When I was as young as you are, in the late 1980s – early 1990s, I travelled to Moscow to work on the law on youth that was being developed at that time. Do you think this law was adopted? No, it was not, because they could not establish who would be governed by this law. And this contributed to my concept of the way to implement youth programmes. We should not approve generalised draft laws and regulations that will not work. We need to target work in this area so it addresses specific issues.     

I do not know what your voluntary organisation is doing, but I am sure you understand that any activity needs to be specific. If somebody needs help, you don’t develop a law on supporting a social group, but you act, you allocate funds, you help old people, you help people with health problems. My attitude to rules and institutions which concern young people, or the so-called youth policy, is as follows – I think this policy must be absolutely practical. It should not be about slogans. That would discredit the policy from the very outset.

Question: Good afternoon,

I’m Yevgenia Dyomina, project coordinator at the Kaliningrad Region Youth Volunteer Centre. There is a volunteer programme in Europe, Gap Year, for school graduates, who spend a year volunteering at social centres before enrolling at a university. Sometimes they work in their own city, and sometimes they travel to other regions or even countries.

They normally get financial support from special government programmes, which pay for their travel expenses, accommodation and pocket money. I think this is an interesting idea because it helps resolve social problems and teaches young people to be active citizens. This also helps them choose a career because they can try it and see if this is an area they want to pursue an education and a career in. It’s possible that they will choose this kind of work for their career. In addition, while doing this, an individual begins to understand a lot of important things and learns to take responsibility for themselves, for their region, their city and their country. I think it would be interesting to implement this project in Russia. Imagine school graduates, say, from the Tomsk Region go to the Kaliningrad Region and join our local volunteers in useful social projects.

In fact we do have a programme called We Are Russians for young people who wish to visit interesting places in Russia. This programme also includes youth exchanges between the Kaliningrad Region and other Russian regions. So my question is, Mr Medvedev, do you think a similar programme could be implemented on a national scale? Does Russia need this programme? Thank you.

Dmitry Medvedev: Thank you Yevgenia. It’s Yevgenia, isn’t it? I think Russia needs this programme, and I’ll tell you why. The general attitude toward volunteers has long been sort of disdainful. Some were even wary: why would anyone want to work for free? There may be some ulterior motives there… But I believe that Russia truly needs this volunteer activity, which is common practice around the world, to boost its national unity as well as to address specific problems. You mentioned the Gap Year programme. I think this is a good thing to do, for those who wish to do it of course – those who want to go somewhere and try working in some area. This would be great. This would help a young person make an informed decision about pursuing that kind of career. You know, if someone wants to be a physician, they might benefit from spending time in a hospital and getting the feel of it – how it feels when you see blood or ill people. After that they either say, “yes, I’ll apply for medical school because I want to help people,” or “no, I couldn’t do this, it’s too much for me.”

We have various large projects we can offer volunteers. When we began preparing for the Olympics, where, I hope, Russia’s athletes will perform superbly (or at least as well as the British did in London this year)…

So, when we began thinking about how many people – volunteers – we needed there, we suddenly realised with dread that we had none available – I mean people who could, for example, explain to foreigners where to go in a foreign language. So we focused on this problem and at this point we already have enough trained volunteers for the Olympics. This is good.

The same should be done with respect to other major international projects such as the APEC Leaders’ Week next month, and other important events. It would be a good opportunity for them to learn and test their skills or to see if they really have a desire to do something. This would be also good for their social development, if you’ll forgive this sophisticated term. Communicating is a difficult skill, you know. While we may often imagine that it would be easy, it actually turns out to be very difficult to say something, let alone explain some complicated point. In this sense, I would say volunteer work would be very useful. We need to adjust some legislation for it and develop regional and interregional programmes. So good luck to you. Only remember that this is called volunteer work because people must do it by goodwill and voluntarily.

Remark: Thank you.

Anchor: Mr Medvedev, our time is running out – or can we continue our talk? Is it possible?

Dmitry Medvedev: Sure, your time is running out, but you can continue.

Anchor: Okay, then here’s one more question.

Dmitry Medvedev: Let’s make a deal – you ask me three quickies and then I’ll go. Go ahead, please.

Question: Good afternoon, my name is Vadim, I’m a post-graduate of the Baltic Federal University. Mr Medvedev, this year discounted prices on air flights were introduced for the residents of the Kaliningrad Region travelling to other parts of Russia. Will prices also be reduced for residents of Russia bound for Kaliningrad? I’m asking because up to now… in order to fly to us… Prices on air flights are exorbitant and not everyone is able to process an external passport to reach us by train. These price discounts would be very helpful for young people. They’d be able to attend our Baltic Artek forum, for example. Not everyone is able to pay a lot of money to reach us from mainland Russia. Can we hope for price discounts?

Dmitry Medvedev: Vadim, you’ve touched upon a very important issue for the Baltic and the Kaliningrad Region. Of course, I understand how important this is. In fact, this is why we introduced discounts for the residents of this region. When I visited your region… Sometimes, when talking to people, I’d ask them: “Have you ever been to Moscow or in any part of mainland Russia, so to speak?” They say no, but they have been to Germany and Poland. We are one and the same country and we must communicate regularly, so we must create the conditions for such communication.

Of course, we’ll consider possibilities for supporting those who want to come to Kaliningrad. This region also has resorts. Tourists can visit it as well. After all, we have discounted prices for those who wish to spend their holidays on the Black Sea coast of the Caucasus. So, there are reasons for doing this. That said, I can’t promise you that we’ll do this tomorrow, because we must do the calculations. These are no small funds for the state, and they must be calculated. People should travel by train as well (I don’t see anything bad in this) but air flights are obviously more convenient, faster and easier. Such programmes are possible but they require calculations. This is my answer to you, Vadim. As for the existing programmes, we’ll keep them.

Answer: Thank you.

Question: Good afternoon, Mr Medvedev. My name is Artyom Zyuskin, I’m the head of the Kalinigrad Regional Headquarters of Student Teams. Here is my question: do you consider it possible to restore youth housing complexes (YHCs), which would considerably help young families and give additional jobs for student teams that would build them?

Dmitry Medvedev: Thank you, Artyom. I have always liked the idea of YHCs and I was involved in this work to an extent in the past. The main point is to resolve the housing problem with YHCs. They still operate in some cities – some manage to make them effective whereas others are not so successful. The main problem is that under the previous YHC model the YHC members were supposed to contribute their labour to housing construction. Are you ready to take part in this yourself, and how effective will your contribution be? It is necessary to answer this question because in the past flats were given to those who were involved in their construction and also to a certain number of people who helped with this construction effort. Needless to say, the number of the latter group of people was usually growing whereas that of builders decreased. As a result, very often people who had very little to do with YHCs received these flats. Let me be frank. Still, the idea as such was a good one. If you’re ready to build housing yourselves, if you’re ready to act as the builders or entrepreneurs, this idea may work. If not, it is easier to go for usual housing programmes.

Answer: Thank you. Our student construction teams are ready!

Dmitry Medvedev: You’re ready? Let’s try it then. We can give it a go so as to keep this idea afloat. We can try to implement it. Are you from Kaliningrad?

Answer: Yes, I am.

Dmitry Medvedev: You don’t have a single YHC in the city, do you?

Answer: Only those built in Soviet times.

Dmitry Medvedev: No, I don’t mean those – Soviet times are long past. I’m referring to operating YHCs. You don’t have any?

Let’s try it. I will talk with your governor and give him a relevant instruction – let him think about how to do this. But you should use your brains and hands as well. Is it a deal?

Remark: Thank you.

Dmitry Medvedev: Do think about it. That’s a good idea.

Question: Good afternoon, Mr Medvedev and Mr Belokonev. My name is Ulyana Streltsova, I’m the head of the Baltic Artek-2012 press centre. I have the following question. Abuse of pets is widespread in this country and we have so many homeless animals. When will the law to protect pets against abuse be adopted? Do you think it is necessary to control the web in order to prevent the spread of cruel attitudes through social networks and other internet instruments?

Dmitry Medvedev: Ulyana, I’ll give you a brief answer – it is impossible to control the internet. Therefore, those who are trying to find trash online are bound to find it – this is the grim reality. But, of course, parents should prevent their children from being exposed to this. This is the right thing to do and schools must have relevant programmes.

As for abuse of animals, responsibility for this is provided for by law. The problem is not in the absence of provisions but in the failure to apply them. We even have an article that envisages criminal punishment that is quite severe for this category of crime. But 97% of such cases are not even initiated, let alone being brought to court.

First, I think you’re right. This problem does exist. Second, you should take the initiative – those who want to save animals and who are following up on what is happening with them. In other words, public organisations must present such cases and demand that they be taken to court. I think if more cases are initiated, they will function as a cold shower on some hotheads, although not all of them because far from always is severe liability a guarantee against such abuses.

Answer: Thank you.

Dmitry Medvedev: Is that all? Thank you very much, guys.

Sergei Belokonev:  Mr Medvedev, in conclusion I’d like to give you some presents from the guys: a tie – this is their brand tie, and a slimline shirt like they are all wearing now.

Dmitry Medvedev: As for the T-shirt, I’ll wear it when I'm riding a bicycle, if you don’t mind.

Anchor: We hope you’ll come back to us wearing this T-shirt. Thank you very much.

Dmitry Medvedev: Thank you very much. I wish all of you good cheer and good luck! Until next time! Good bye! All the best!